Protecting yourself

Loss of e-reader risks ID theft

Fred Williams

It took about a day for me to figure out my e-reader had been stolen. Double-take: Along with it, the thief had grabbed the virtual keys to my credit card.

After my apartment was broken into, at first it seemed the only thing taken was my change jar. The Kindle didn’t turn up missing until the next night, when I was hankering for a chapter of a Harry Bosch mystery. It’s usually hard to find — under a pillow, or out on the balcony — but this time, the little tablet didn’t turn up at all.

Loss of e-reader risks ID theft

With it went that convenient one-click purchase function that connects to my credit card. Typed somewhere into the device are enough digits to identify me to Amazon as a recurring customer with a credit card set on a hair trigger.  Maybe that function is a little too convenient.

My phone locks after about two seconds, but for some reason I did not think about a screen lock for the Kindle. It does not get around as much as the phone does, but neither is it a total homebody. Especially now.

“It happens all the time, in terms of somebody losing a smartphone,” said Scott Stevenson, founder and CEO of Eliminate ID Theft, which insures against losses from ID Theft. People generally scramble and alert the carrier if their phone gets boosted. Quick action can wipe the phone and prevent ID theft even if your screen isn’t locked. But Stevenson wasn’t familiar with problems involving e-book readers — possibly because you don’t think of them as tablet computers with their own sets of Internet-enabled, credit card data-carrying apps, which is what they have become.

“The problem is in these apps people download,” Stevenson said. “With your bank, or a social network, even an airline — anything you might enter your credit card number into — if that app stores the information, you run the risk of having that out there.” He added that texts sent back and forth are also a rich source of passwords and account numbers for ID thieves. “If your phone gets stolen, there’s a high likelihood that (information) is still on there — texting is very easy to uncover.”

My fears about ID theft usually center on the invisible threats zipping around cyberspace. A pry bar yanking open my front door didn’t figure in. But burglary could have been an effective mode of ID theft, considering the information stored on my e-reader. Access to my accounts is probably more lucrative than my TV or stereo, and a lot easier to carry around.

At the least, the miscreants could have downloaded music and books, paid for with my card. Ordering physical goods would be another matter — they’d have to enter their shipping address, giving away the location of their hideout.

Fortunately, I called Amazon before the Kindle Gang had a chance to put anything on my virtual tab — maybe they started reading the Harry Bosch mystery and got distracted. The company said it would de-register the device remotely, turning it into a brick the next time it pops up on the Internet via Wi-Fi. Too bad Amazon can’t also GPS the thieves and call in the police, or a drone strike.  Maybe that’ll be a feature on the next model.  I need a new one anyway.

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  • Jayson Quilantan

    Please don’t joke about drone strikes!